Born in Osijek in 1984 and a graduate of Zagreb’s Fine Arts Academy, Šandrk is one of the leading exponents of realist painting in Croatia - although his take on the genre is far more ambiguous and questioning than that of many of his peers. Šandrk’s paintings frequently use a hyperrealist technique to juxtapose groups of people against a background of someone else’s artwork. His most famous works are Martina Looks at a Picture by Lovro Artuković (in which a girl looks at a large canvas by the well-known Croatian figurative painter and portraitist Artuković); and the Spectacle series, in which odd groups of people (from selfie-taking tourists to Ukrainian soldiers) are pictured standing in front of well-known paintings. All are so perfectly rendered that they almost look like photographs rather than paintings, and as well as being fun and engaging pieces of visual art, are also slightly troubling, as if there is a dark joke lurking at the back of the artist’s mind. In Your Pocket caught up with Stjepan Šandrk to try and find out more about his method.
ZIYP: There’s something decidedly ironic going on in your paintings of people looking at paintings. Are you making fun of the art world? Stjepan: Right after my diploma I switched from abstract art to photorealism - not just to demonstrate technical ability but also to find new content. At first I was painting scenes from my life; a kind of visual diary. There was nothing so unusual about it. So I decided on a new direction, and these paintings about the way that paintings are shown was the result. When I started painting images like this I described my paintings as “parasitical”, the works of a young unknown painter feeding on those who were already established. But it wasn’t my theme to focus on them specifically but to look more generally at the world of the museum. The way we perceive culture and museums has changed a lot since I was a kid. I remember them as places of quiet study, they were almost sacred. Now museums are trying so much to involve their visitors and allow them to interact. There are concerts on the roof; museum spaces are rented out to functions and congresses. They are now places of spectacle rather than places of art history. And the obligatory taking of the selfie has become part of the museum too.
ZIYP: What is your working method? Stjepan: I begin by working from photographs, composing the picture in Photoshop from maybe 2 or 5 different photos, before committing it to canvas. Some of the photos I use are my own, others are appropriated from the internet. From these different sources something unusual comes out at the other end. I fully intend to provoke some kind of emotional response from the viewer. It might be ironic, but it might also be disturbing.
ZIYP: Is Croatian art scene in good shape? Stjepan: The scene is now a lot more open, contemporary and vibrant than it used to be. It’s still small, but it has an energy which I didn’t see 10 or 20 years ago. The main thing for young artists is that they are no longer constrained by borders, and that means there are more opportunities. There are more foreign residences, and more chances to work with private galleries in other countries. What we lack in Croatia itself are private galleries that function well, and art fairs that take themselves seriously. Which is why it is important for every artist to take their work abroad and find a public there. Croatia itself has a small number of serious collectors and if you are a good young artists you will get to meet them all very quickly. Otherwise the art market in Croatia is virtually non-existent unless you are talking about the kind of art that ends up as interior decoration in middle class homes. And if an artist does too well in that kind of art market then he/she stops getting offered serious exhibitions!